Only the names have changed: Dialectic and differentiation of the indigenous person in Papua New Guinea
Indigeneity is becoming a more important way for the rural communities of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to represent identity, as it is in many other parts of the world. Anthropologists have largely been critical of the essentialism of indigenous identities, and describe indigeneity as an emerging consciousness of the denial of sovereignty. I argue that Dumont’s distinction between dialectic and differentiation as alternative ways to think about social wholes helps to sort through contemporary discussion of the emergence of indigeneity. An account of indigenous peoples’ claims as a dialectic of recognition leaves many questions unanswered; Dumont explains why and suggests an alternative path. The case of Auhelawa, a society of PNG, illustrates how a self-conception rooted in territory involves a transformation of the cultural construction of personhood. Auhelawa indigenous identity not only draws upon colonial discourses of race, but upon a distinct ideology of names as individuating labels. The discourse of kinship, by contrast, provides a context for people to imagine a wide-ranging network of relationships between groups based on the power of lineage names to connect people to remote relatives in other places. This conflict of discursive frameworks indicates a deeper conflict between different concepts of the person, an issue highlighted by Dumont as well as his forebears, Mauss and Durkheim.